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Late-Round Wide Receivers with WR1 Upside in 2021 Fantasy Football

Four wide receivers who are going in the eighth round or later who could have WR1 upside in 2021.

Two years ago, in one of the final rounds of a dynasty startup draft, I took a flier on D.J. Chark, a second-year wide receiver for the Jacksonville Jaguars because I thought to myself, “eh, the Jags need to throw the ball to someone right?”. Chark then went onto finish the WR16 in .5PPR that year, racking up over 1,000 yards receiving and catching 8 touchdowns. It was exceptional return-on-investment to say the least.

With the pass-happy nature of the NFL these days, we’re starting to see more and more late-round wide receivers come out of the woodwork to finish among the best in fantasy football. Last year, both Diontae Johnson and Marvin Jones Jr. were being drafted in the eighth round. They went on to finish WR2s. Justin Jefferson wasn’t even really drafted in fantasy (ADP 12.03) and we all know what he did last year.

Having a late-round wide receiver breakout gives your team a huge advantage so finding guys to target with that potential is imperative.

Looking through Underdog’s current .5PPR ADP, here are four wide receivers all going in the eighth round or later, who could offer WR1 upside for 2021 if you squint hard enough.

Brandin Cooks (WR41, 8.06)

I understand the uncertainty and general aura of putridness that currently surrounds the Houston Texans. As a professional football team, they look primed for a season of well-below mediocrity. (And knowing them, they’ll somehow mess up having the No. 1 overall pick in 2022.) However, don’t let all this stink cloud your judgement when it comes to Brandin Cooks.

Cooks has been one of the luckiest wide receivers in the history of the NFL, despite being traded being traded four times in five years. In his career, Cooks has had Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Jared Goff (got one year with Good Jared Goff), and Deshaun Watson as his quarterbacks. Allen Robinson is looking at this list in a jealous rage.

With those quarterbacks, Cooks has recorded over 1,000 yards and at least 5 touchdowns in all but 2 seasons. In the last 6 years he’s finished the WR14, WR9, WR12, WR13, WR62 (missed two games with a BAD Jared Goff), and WR15 in .5PPR. He’s currently being drafted WR41.

Whether Watson will be the Texans’ starting quarterback in Week 1 this year is obviously very much up in the air. Tyrod Taylor is slated as Watson’s backup. That is a noticeable drop-off. However, there isn’t a lot of talent among the other Texans’ pass catchers to really challenge what I’m assuming will be Cooks’ enormous target share in Houston. Even with Will Fuller on the roster last year, Cooks accounted for over 22% of the Texans’ targets and 30.2% of the team’s air yards.

Cooks has proven throughout his career to be a reliable WR2 in fantasy and he’s slated to be in a passing game that’ll feature him, him, and a touch more him. If Cooks continues to be drafted below even his potential floor for 2021, I will be having him on all my rosters.

Antonio Brown (WR46, 9.04)

Last year Antonio Brown finished as the WR66 in .5PPR. Not exactly encouraging when you look at his current, much higher ADP. However, Brown didn’t suit up for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers until Week 9. He didn’t start a game until Week 11. From Week 9 onward last year, Brown was the WR21 in .5PPR. He was on pace for 90 catches, 966 yards, and 8 touchdowns, numbers which would have put him as the WR15 in 2020.

Now his ADP seems like an absolute steal.

We know Tom Brady for whatever reason loves Brown as he was a major recruiter for the wide receiver in both New England and Tampa. Plus, once Brown joined the team, he led the Bucs in receptions (45), was second in targets by just one (62 to Mike Evans’ 63), and saw the second-most receptions and targets per snap in the entire NFL on the season. When Brown was on the field, Brady got him involved.

Now Brown and Brady get a full offseason together and will enter 2021 even more aligned. That’s bad news for both NFL defenses, Chris Godwin dynasty managers, and anyone who passes on Brown in their fantasy drafts. I have Brown ranked as my WR36 this year—highest among our staff—and that feels low.

Corey Davis (WR51, 10.07)

Last year, Corey Davis set career highs in yards (984) and touchdowns (5) despite missing 2 games and seeing under 95 targets. Now with the New York Jets, he’s walking into triple-digit targets simply by being their de facto No. 1 pass catcher. As a receiver who’s only seen over 100 targets once in his career, just the uptick in work will do wonders for his fantasy potential.

It’s not just a larger target share that has me excited about Davis’ fantasy stock for 2021. Davis has far more touchdown potential in New York than he did in Tennessee.

It’s pretty hard to see any red zone work as a wide receiver when your team has Derrick Henry. The Titans had 20 more rush attempts than pass attempts in the red zone last year (88 to 68). Meanwhile the San Francisco 49ers—where both Jets’ new head coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur hail from—had more red zone pass attempts than rush attempts in 2020 (76 to 70). More red zone pass attempts means more opportunities for the 6-foot-3 Davis to score touchdowns.  (To show you the power of touchdowns, if Davis had caught two extra touchdowns last year, he would have jumped from the WR31 to WR26 in .5PPR last year.)

I’ll admit, to a certain extent, I understand the trepidation around Davis. He’s joining a new team (which doesn’t have the best track record of immediate success) and will be playing with a rookie quarterback in Zach Wilson. However, Davis—who the Jets are clearly paying to be their No. 1 receiver—going behind WR3s like Michael Gallup, Laviska Shenault, and Mecole Hardman in fantasy drafts simply does not make sense to me.

Breshad Perriman (WR65, 13.09)

If you’re looking for a total flier in the backend of your drafts, then Breshad Perriman is your man.

We’ve seen Perriman put up some wild fantasy numbers in the past, most notably in 2019 when he was THE WR3 in .5PPR over a five week span (Week 13 to Week 17). His 2020 season with the Jets was mostly a bust but he did put forward a couple good outings, one against the New England Patriots when he torched them for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 5 catches.

But including Perriman on this list has less to do with his talent, and more to do with the severe lack of talent currently on the Detroit Lions.

The Lions have 364 available targets heading into 2021, the most in the NFL. Detroit’s entire passing game has been reformed with tight end T.J. Hockenson the lone holdover. Someone is going to have to catch passes from Jared Goff. Right? Right!?

Related: Breakouts and Busts Based on Available Team Targets

Perriman is the clear leader among the wide receivers. Given that we’ve seen him string viable fantasy outings together in the past, who’s to say he can’t piece something together in 2021 with the 170 targets he’ll see? (I’m exaggerating but seriously, Perriman might see an absurd number of targets for the caliber of receiver he is.) A lot has to go right for any receiver taken at the backend of drafts to finish a WR1. The narrative for Perriman to suddenly become a top fantasy commodity is just wild enough that it might work.